CELTIC manager Neil Lennon has expressed dismay at his Champions League preparations being disrupted by what he regards as a deliberate attempt to unsettle his key central defender, Kelvin Wilson.
The 27-year-old Englishman was the subject of a £1.5 million bid from his former club, Nottingham Forest, last Friday which was immediately rejected by Celtic. But Lennon, who last night completed the signing of winger Derk Boerrigter from Ajax on a four-year deal subject to international clearance, is concerned about the way Forest’s interest in the player was leaked to their local media.
He believes efforts are being made to provoke Wilson, who initially suffered from homesickness after joining Celtic two years ago, into seeking a return to his home town. “There is no doubt there is something naughty going on,” said Lennon. “I don’t know where it is coming from, but as soon as their bid was made on Friday, it was out on BBC East Midlands about 20 minutes later. That’s not the way you do things. These are edgy situations, where a player might have his head turned. We have to do all we can to convince him to stay. I’d like to think he would want to stay, but I can’t say. His home and family are in Nottingham and that’s a big lure for him. Some people down the road know that and are using it.”
Wilson will line up for Celtic tonight when they play the first leg of their Champions League third qualifying round tie against Elfsborg at Parkhead. He was one of Celtic’s stand-out performers in last season’s Champions League campaign, prompting England manager Roy Hodgson to consider him for a call-up, and Lennon views him as vital to his club’s chances of reaching the group stage of the tournament once more.
“Is it an attempt to unsettle Kelvin? Absolutely. I have spoken to him about it,” added Lennon. “I obviously don’t want him to go. I want him to at least play in the Champions League qualifiers and be as professional as he can. The last couple of games Kelvin has played, he has been excellent. He is being as professional as he can. I’ve got plenty of central defenders, which was an area we needed to improve and bulk up on. But, as far as Kelvin goes, he is still my number one centre-half. Having lost Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper in this transfer window, I certainly don’t want to lose any more players.
“Roy Hodgson was very complimentary about Kelvin after the Juventus game last season, very complimentary. I think he is a top, top player. People have different views on him at times but I think we saw what he’s all about last year. I just want him to continue as he’s a very important player for us, particularly in the European games.
“I think he’s worth more than [what Forest bid]. Look, we don’t put prices on players, but £1.5m is well short of our valuation and what we think of him.
“I don’t want to reassess anything. I want him here and I want him happy. I just need to do a bit of work on him. In the meantime, he will be in the squad for the Elfsborg game. He has trained well and has been playing well, and he looks okay. But obviously there is something going on, people trying to ruffle his feathers a little bit.”
As irritated as he is by Wilson’s situation, Lennon was considerably more relaxed yesterday about the prospect of Celtic striker Mohamed Bangura lining up against the Scottish champions this evening. He still believes it would be in the player’s best interests not to play for Elfsborg, where he is on loan until December, but says he will accept the Swedish club’s position on the issue.
“I haven’t spoken to Mo but Peter [Lawwell] has spoken to Elfsborg,” said Lennon. “I’ve made my feelings clear on it. It’s a very difficult situation for the player and I thought common sense might have prevailed.
“I would prefer him not to play, not for selfish reasons, but just for the player himself. I’m not going to put any extra pressure on Mo, we will just deal with it now, whether he plays or doesn’t, and respect it.” There could be a Celtic debut for Boerrigter, who completed his £2m move from Ajax last night. Lennon expects big things from the 26-year-old. “He is the type of player we have been after for quite a while,” said Lennon. “He is quite pacy and predominantly left-sided. There has maybe been a bit of an imbalance there for us for a while. We haven’t really had a quick leftie for a while. So he fits the bill for the type of player we have been looking for.
“He also has goals in him. He has been playing for a quality side for the last couple of years, so I’m really pleased we’ve got him. He has got a bit of an ankle problem so we will assess him tomorrow. But if he is okay, he will go straight into the squad. He had a bit of a back problem a couple of years ago but he played 30 games last season, so it’s not a major issue.
“He just wants to play. He has been in and out of the Ajax side, which is no disgrace because they are a very good side, but I’m hoping he will come here and light the place up for us.
“He probably hasn’t played as much football as he would have liked to but coming here, with his style of play and the way we want to play, will suit him. I would think the Champions League is a factor in him coming here. Off the back of what we achieved last season, we are maybe a bit more attractive than we were previously.”